High school student reports to Army Reserve unit

by Sgt. Phillip H. Valentine

While most high school students typically spend their weekends going out with friends, playing video games or preparing for college, Christopher A. Cioppa finds time to serve his country.

Christopher is a Harrisburg, Pa., native currently attending an American high school in Heidelberg, Germany. He is also known as Pfc. Cioppa, who is awaiting an authorized assignment to the 457th Civil Affairs Battalion.

The 457th is being filled with Soldiers for its official activation in 2010. The unit will be a subordinate unit of the 7th Civil Support Command.

“I believe everyone who is capable should serve in the military,” Private First Class Cioppa said. “I’m doing this because I believe it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing it for the Soldiers who gave their lives for this country.”

Col. Armon A. Cioppa, the U.S. Army Europe chief of personnel who has served more than 25 years in the Army and is Private First Class Cioppa’s father, said he was immensely proud of his son.

“I sincerely believe, especially in a time of national crisis as we face today, it is everyone’s duty who is physically capable to serve in uniform,” Colonel Cioppa said. “Also, I am very proud that he has chosen to continue our family’s tradition of military service. I hope Chris gains a sense of self-pride and confidence. Most important of all, I hope he enjoys the immense camaraderie that can only be experienced when participating in a profession that fosters selfless devotion. I hope he has, as I have, the time of his life.”

Currently, Private First Class Cioppa is in his fourth year in the Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which is offered by his American high school in Heidelberg; he holds the rank of cadet major.

Retired Lt. Col. Felix M. Pedraza, JROTC senior Army instructor, said Private First Class Cioppa is an outstanding student.

“He is dedicated, caring and fully committed to academics and the JROTC program,” Lieutenant Colonel Pedraza said. “He cares for subordinates and peers.”

Although his JROTC training has taught him a lot, attending weekend battle assemblies in his Army Reserve unit is something different.

“This is a lot different than cadet training,” Private First Class Cioppa said. “It’s nice being able to have a unit and learn from them before I go to basic (combat) training. I like the friendships and experience that I get with the 457th.”

To get ready, Private First Class Cioppa hits the local gym to concentrate on the physical demands he will have to face in the future. Since attending the weekend battle assemblies with the 457th, he has a head start in military knowledge and is preparing himself for the rigors of basic combat training he’s expecting in June.

With the current trend in military deployments, some parents may have problems with their children going into military service, but Private First Class Cioppa said his family supports him.

“My family is all for it. My father is a colonel in the Army, so I go to him for advice and guidance,” Private First Class Cioppa said. “My mom and sister are scared for me but they are always going to be supportive.”

High school itself can be a challenging obstacle to overcome, but explaining why he joined the military to other students can be just as difficult.

“The students asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ My answer is, ‘I want to be a Soldier and I’m willing to do anything for my country. I do it for you and for the rights and freedoms that have been paid for in blood and tears. I’m glad to be an American, but I’m proud to be an American Soldier,’” he said.